Stephen King’s colossal 1986 novel It receives its first big-screen adaptation and is wisely separated into two chapters. Director of 2013’s Mama, Andy Muschietti, is at the helm and focuses on the childhood aspect.
It begins with Georgie Denbrough’s (Jackson Robert Scott) iconic lost and found paper sailboat and swift demise. As summer swings around in Derry, Maine, posters for missing children begin to pile up and a group of young outcasts begin envisioning their deepest nightmares. From fear of infection fuelled by a hypochondriac mother to adolescence anxieties while battling a sexually abusive father. Led by Georgie’s older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) they form the Losers’ Club, coming together to defeat their tormentor.
Literally having big shoes to fill after Tim Curry’s ghastly turn as Pennywise in the mini-series of the same name in 1990, Bill Skarsgård undoubtedly won me over. His slender frame and childlike mannerisms offer another distinct take on the demonic clown that’s more outright eerie than his deceptively menacing predecessor. Sadly Skarsgård isn’t utilised well and the film’s downfall, after a striking opening and an effective projector scene that was unfortunately revealed in the trailer, is its descent into jump scare galore.
Tommy Lee Wallace’s mini-series saw Curry’s Pennywise revel in exploiting fears. Shape-shifting into a deceased father only to reveal itself one pompom and balloon at a time and digging graves ready for his victims, but gleefully declaring one is occupied as a prospective victim commits suicide. Trading physiological terror for cheap jump scares has plagued mainstream horror, made all the more frustrating with Skarsgård’s promising but squandered performance.
Without a doubt, It works as a coming-of-age tale, with the talented young cast holding the film together. Lieberher, who impressed in Midnight Special, is once again brilliantly understated and Sophia Lillis as defiant Beverly also shines. Talented cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung captures the youthful innocence of the youngsters. Breathing life into the film with a scattering of delicately framed, tender moments that offer a respite from their ongoing ordeal.
Although the original mini-series has aged considerably in places, its firm grip on subtle horror is noticeably absent in Muschietti’s interpretation. However, It remains an involving coming-of-age film, a testament to its gifted cast.